Smoked Oysters: A Shared Obsession

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[GIVEAWAY UPDATE: The lucky winner of Serve Yourself is…Ivy Manning. I liked everyone’s answers, so in the end I decided to write all the entrants’ names on slips of papers, toss them into a bowl and let my son pull one out without looking. Not very scientific, but at least it was objective. Thanks for your great comments. I enjoyed reading about what you all like to cook for yourselves.]

My friend Joe Yonan and I share a small obsession. And by small I mean the object of our obsession is small, not necessarily the obsession itself:

Smoked oysters. Yes, those sweet-salty-smoky-chewy things that are packed tightly in tins and look (rather unappetizingly) like tiny preserved organs. Those smoked oysters. I can’t tell you how glad—relieved, really—I was to learn this about Joe, because I had always thought my affection for smoked oysters a little offbeat and not shared by many others. How often do you encounter a smoked oyster anymore?

Back in the 1970s when I was growing up, there were always tins of smoked oysters (and mussels and clams) in our pantry. I’m not even sure why. I grew up in an Italian family, and smoked oysters are certainly not part of that culinary lexicon. It may have just been the times. Whenever my parents threw a dinner party, out would come the Danish hors d’oeuvre tray, with its smooth wooden frame and three rectangular bowls. My mother would fill one bowl with her sweet and sour chicken livers, another with olives, and the third with smoked oysters. Out, too, would come the small metal two-tiered toothpick stand, which held two dozen or so miniature sword-shaped toothpicks (complete with tapered blades and itty-bitty handles). These we used to spear the oysters.

I hesitated going into the living room when company was in there, but I couldn’t resist the oysters so I would slink in, skewer as many as I could on one of the tiny metal blades and, to the disapproving glances of my parents at my piggishness, slink back out. Long after I left home I retained my fondness for smoked oysters. I might forget about them for months, even years, at a time, but then out of nowhere an intense craving would hit, sending me to the grocery store for a tin (or two or three).

I’ve known Joe for awhile—he is the editor of the Washington Post’s food section, for which I write occasionally—but I did not know he shared my affection for this retro appetizer ingredient until I turned to page 127 in his new book, Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures In Cooking for One. Behold: a recipe called Avocado, Smoked Oyster, and Pistachio Bruschetta. I consider myself a fairly creative cook, but I have never done anything with smoked oysters beyond spearing them with toothpicks and popping them in my mouth, or—at most—plopping them onto a cracker.

I asked Joe what it is about smoked oysters that appeals to him. Here’s what he said: “For me, the love goes back to my college days, when I was looking for cheap but filling things to eat besides those 10-for-$1 ramen noodles. I started making my way through the canned-fish aisle. The oysters immediately captivated me with their slight funkiness and mineral taste, not to mention smoke, of course. I’ve always been such a fan of anything smoked, from my earliest taste of those Blue Diamond smoked almonds to of course the heights (and depths) of true low-and-slow barbecue.” Put this way, our little obsession not only sounds perfectly reasonable, but downright practical.

I thought about giving my copy of Joe’s book to someone who is single. But you know what? I like it too much. The recipes are thoughtful and eclectic—with chapters on pizza, sandwiches, and tacos, among other subjects—and most can easily be multiplied to feed my family. Plus, during the day when I am the only one at home, I do cook for myself. So I have a selfish reason for keeping it, too. Besides, I couldn’t possibly part with a book that features a recipe called Avocado, Smoked Oyster, and Pistachio Bruschetta. There is nothing I don’t adore in that lineup.

Just about every ingredient in this recipe is rich—the oil-slicked oysters, the buttery avocado, and the sweet pistachios. But these same ingredients are also filled with good things; vitamins and minerals, good fats, protein. And a scattering of chopped briny green olives on top is just enough to cut the richness. One or two slices of this bruschetta makes a meal, and if you have a nice glass of Soave or Falanghina to accompany it, so much the better.

Cookbook Giveaway: I have a copy of Joe’s book to give away to one lucky person. To enter, just post a comment here telling me what your favorite dish is to cook for yourself. The winner will be announced on April 13.

Avocado, Smoked Oyster, and Pistachio Bruschetta

From Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One, by Joe Yonan (Ten Speed Press)


  • 2 tablespoons raw shelled pistachios
  • 1 (3-ounce) tin smoked oysters in olive oil, drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika)
  • 2 thick slices rustic-style bread
  • 1/2 very ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 5 or 6 large green olives, pitted and chopped
  • Fleur de sel or other best-quality flaky sea salt


Heat the pistachios in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, shaking the pan frequently, until they are very fragrant and starting to brown in spots, 2 or 3 minutes. Immediately transfer them to a bowl to stop the cooking.

In a small bowl, toss the oysters with the pimenton.

Preheat the broiler with the rack set 4 to 5 inches from the flame or element. Broil the bread on one side until very dark brown, even slightly blackened in spots, 2 or 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Divide the avocado flesh between the two bread slices and spread with a knife. Top with the oysters, then the green olives and pistachios. Sprinkle with a little salt, and eat.

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40 Responses to Smoked Oysters: A Shared Obsession

  1. Jael April 6, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    I’ve never really thought much about smoked oysters (other than as a symbol of the 70s) but I will now! What an interesting combination. Love the idea of Joe’s book and if this is an example of what’s between the covers, I’m sure I’ll love the book itself as well. (Not intended as a giveaway entry, just wanted to comment.)

    • Domenica April 6, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

      Thanks, Jael. Appreciate your comment. Yes, the book is filled with terrific recipes. Cheers

  2. Emily April 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    I love getting a bag of brussels sprouts, tossing them with olive oil, s&p and a splash of vinegar. to cook, I either roast them in oven or sautee them in a cast iron skillet. Delicious!

    • Domenica April 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

      Delicious idea, Emily. I love brussels sprouts. Thanks for posting.

  3. Katherine April 6, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

    To be honest, I’ve never had smoked oysters (I also was not alive during the 70s, if the timing is right as recommended by Jael.)

    But, I have a mean cassoulet recipe for 2, and that means leftovers for little old me. But I eat by myself almost all the time.

  4. Olga @ MangoTomato April 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    ooh, would love to win the book since I pretty much always cook for one! I love making Shakshuka (poaching eggs in a tomato sauce) or tuna salad with olives, tomatoes and cucumbers. But I also make soups and stews and other things that could be used as leftovers or frozen.

    By the way, love the combination of avocado and pistachios, but not a fan of smoked oysters. Fresh ones, though, I’ll eat any time!

  5. Liz the Chef April 6, 2011 at 7:39 pm #

    My favorite dish to cook just for me is simple pasta with a lot of spice…Hey, somewhere I still have the tiny pearl I once found in a can of smoked oysters years ago – I kid you not!

  6. Barbara | VinoLuciStyle April 6, 2011 at 10:20 pm #

    I share the love with you. It’s a Christmas tradition; my oldest daughter and I LOVE them straight from the can on crackers and the youngest has to leave the room.

    I have never thought about cooking with them; that can is gone shortly after it’s opened! But I will now, promise!

    • Domenica April 7, 2011 at 12:35 am #

      Barb, I never thought of doing anything else with them either. But we are now hooked on this bruschetta. And it’s almost as easy as opening a can of smoked oysters. Try it!

  7. MB Morell April 7, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    Mac and cheese is my go-to dish if I’m cooking for myself… Somehow, I’ve managed to raise two kids who don’t love my favorite food – and a third who (horrifyingly) prefers Kraft. I contemplate where I went wrong while inhaling my cheesy creation…it’s especially great with manchego…

    • Domenica April 7, 2011 at 12:34 am #

      That’s so funny, Mary Beth. For years my son preferred Trader Joe’s pot stickers to anything I cooked. He is finally coming around but it has taken awhile. I think I need your mac & cheese recipe…

  8. Hector Gonzalez April 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    When I opened this post and was welcomed by those sumptuous smoked oysters, I knew I would like this cookbook. This recipe sounds delicious!
    My favorite thing to make for myself is tartare meat. I know it is a risky dish, but it is so enjoyable. Just add homemade tostadas and I’m in heaven for the rest of the day.

    • Domenica April 7, 2011 at 5:06 pm #

      It is a delicious recipe, Hector. I do hope you will give it a try. I love that you make tartare for yourself. Unusual but that’s what makes it so great! Cheers and thanks for your comment.

  9. Broadsheet April 7, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    I love making risottos. They’re so versatile, and are such a comfort food. My favorite is probably wild mushroom with gorgonzola dulce, and I love it even better the next day for lunch. Another favorite is my “clean out the crisper” curry.

    • Domenica April 7, 2011 at 5:09 pm #

      Thanks for your comment. I love risotto as well, for the same reasons you do!

  10. linda shelley April 9, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    An updated version of my nana’s pastina is my favorite go to. Pastina cooked in
    chicken broth, a beaten egg added along with mozzarella and sprinkling
    of grated cheese. Comfort food at its best, in many ways.

    • Domenica April 9, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

      Linda, you are talking about one of my absolute favorite comfort foods–pastina in broth. I, too, make it often for myself for lunch, while everyone else is at school/work. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Mary April 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    I am a seafood lover; however, the hubby is not so when I have one of those rare just me meal moments I go for my favorite sauteed scallops. I like them simple – butter and S&P. My favorite side dish to this is baked garlic sweet potato fries.

    I love oysters, but have always been a little scared of the ones in tins. I have an avocado sitting on table so I think tonight I might just have to get over my fear and try this recipe out! Thanks!!

  12. Kathy - Panini Happy April 12, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    I’ve been known to bake myself an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies, even if it’s just one cookie that I’m after (well, maybe two).

    • Domenica April 12, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

      You can’t just stop at two!

  13. Elyssa Koidin April 12, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    This past Christmas Eve I found myself alone in the city and reminiscing about sharing the Feast of Seven Fish with my Italian best friend growing up. Instead of going out, I decided to stay in and make linguine with clams. This is now one of my favorite things to make for myself. Served with crusty bread, herbed salad, and a glass of wine, it’s the perfect meal for one. There is no reason to not celebrate a tradition, even if you are dining alone.

    My recipe for Pasta Vongole can be found here:

    • Domenica April 12, 2011 at 4:55 pm #

      One of my absolute favorite things to eat. Thanks for posting, Elyssa, and for sharing your recipe.

  14. Ivy Manning April 12, 2011 at 4:41 pm #

    I married a vegetarian, and I generally don’t cook a lot of meat just for me, but when Mr. Tofu is out of town, I go and buy a dry aged NY strip, or a bavette, or some other brawny cut of beef. I press it with crushed peppercorns, whip out the cast iron skillet, and flick on the turbo charged vent-a-hood. And then maybe a really garlicky homemade caesar salad with lashings of anchovies. He can’t complain about my garlic breath if he’s not there!

    I wish he’d go somewhere soon, this sounds so nice…

    • Domenica April 12, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

      Love this. Hilarious and delicious. Thanks for posting, Ivy.

  15. ruby April 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    I can never resist cooking eggs when I cook for myself only. They are easy, tasty and versatile. Also, they are a good excuse to toast some baguette, slather it with butter and enjoy.

  16. Kim Bernier April 13, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    I find cooking for myself a decadent pleasure. In the winter my favorite is short ribs braised with wine, lemons, raisins & tomatoes; with no witnesses, seconds are an easy sell – I don’t need much convincing. For round two, I add some San Marzanos and cook it for an all day “gravy”. Cold winter days and nights feel bright and cozy when this is on the stove.

  17. Rachel Nuzzo April 13, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Fennel, orange & hazelnut salad with whipped ricotta. I could eat this every single day and never tire of it.

  18. Sherrie Bakshi April 13, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    I hope I am not too late! I love cooking Indian comfort food (yes it does exist). My favorite dish is yogurt curry with rice and papadam (kuddi and rice as we say). It’s so comforting especially after a very long day.

  19. Diane April 13, 2011 at 5:07 pm #

    I love smoked oysters too, but can no longer eat too many (like a whole tin) without feeling like I’ll need major gall bladder surgery … anyway, something I like to cook for myself is a savory omelet — using 2 eggs, cooked in unsweetened butter and rolled with 1 Tbsp. finely minced onions, 1 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan, chiffonade 3 basil leaves, freshly ground sea salt and pepper to taste — my favorite!

  20. Nancy Baggett April 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    I share this obsession, too. But I rarely ever have them in the house, as I have to serve hubby, who eats no mollusks (strange man!), something else. But you have so enticed me, I must now run out and buy some RIGHT now!

  21. josh July 27, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    That’s weird, I was born in 1980 and I have childhood memories of the stacks of smoked oyester tins in my parents pantry. Never realized it was trend of the 70’s. How did that all come about?

  22. Jerilyn Ruiz September 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    I love tossing smoked oysters with hot sauce and plopping them on Ritz. When I do this, I drink Mundet Apple soda with them. It’s so good.

    • Domenica October 1, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

      Jerilyn ~ Thanks for stopping by and reading. I had not heard of Mundet until you mentioned it in your comments. Sounds like something I need to try.

  23. Kimberly April 6, 2013 at 1:48 am #

    Hi, I just found this site while looking for the old fashioned “smoked baby clams on a skewer” that used to be sold in cans back in the late 1970’s when I was about 16 or 17 years old. My brother, who was 8 years older and owned his own house and business would hire me to cater and serve at his parties and these cans of ultimate deliciousness were my undoing! I’ve searched for years to find them again, (he originally bought them at Albertsons grocery store in Lakewood, California.) I’m still hooked on smoked clams but have NEVER been able to find anything that tastes half as good as those little chewy morsels of goodness did on the wooden skewers in the can. Can anyone help me? Can’t find anything at all on the internet regarding these.
    Thanks and everyone who is like me, keep eating those little guys while they are still available!
    Kim Peach
    Hayden, Idaho

    • Domenica April 9, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

      Hi Kim,
      Thanks for your comment. I do see canned baby clams in the supermarket, in the same aisle as the smoked oysters. But I’m not familiar with the ones on wooden skewers. I wonder if they did away with that particular type or brand. Wish I could have been more helpful. And I’m glad you stopped by, fellow smoked mollusk lover!

  24. Melissa Saulie-Rohmsn January 3, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

    SMOKED OYSTER SPREAD!!! The recipe is retro in itself, but addictive and tasty. My husband and I love it on bagel sandwiches. It was adapted from Mystic Seaport’s Seafood Secrets Cookbook, but I found it in The Oregonian Cookbook.
    1 (3oz) pkg. cream cheese, softened
    1/4 cup of mayonnaise
    1 clove of garlic
    2 tsps. soy sauce
    1TBsp. minced fresh parsley
    1 (3.75 oz) can smoked oysters, drained chopped
    Water crackers, bread, or spoon…really anything to get it into your mouth.
    Blend all ingredients besides oysters. When blended, gently stir in chopped oysters.


    • Domenica Marchetti January 4, 2016 at 9:10 am #

      Melissa, thanks so much for sharing the recipe. It sounds outrageously good. Cheers, D

  25. Beth June 10, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    mom would empty the tin of smoked oysters into enough lemon juice to make them swim. they were my idea of heaven then! and i just dumped a tin of them on top of my caesar salad today…. they are my idea of heaven still 🙂


  1. Craving the Food of Depravity - April 14, 2011

    […] d’Oeuvres, we had some bruschetta that came from Joe Yonan’s book, Serve Yourself, via Domenica Marchetti’s great blog.  Even though I love Joe’s work and he’s a super nice guy, I’m not a […]

  2. Avocado, Smoked Oyster, and Pistachio Bruschetta - December 25, 2012

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